CHARLESTON, S.C. — The South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) and Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Health recently announced a partnership to provide incarcerated patients access to health care via telehealth services. The services will be available in four South Carolina institutions including Kirkland Reception and Evaluation in Columbia, Evans Correctional Institution in Bennettsville, Turbeville Correctional Institution in Turbeville and Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville.
The use of telehealth technology will allow the SCDC to apply clinical resources more effectively while providing quality health care. “Utilizing telehealth services allows the agency to provide care to offenders while offsetting the cost to taxpayers with fewer trips to outside providers,” said Bryan P. Stirling, SCDC director, in a statement. “This initiative promotes public safety by limiting offender transports outside of prisons.”
A focus on primary care via telehealth will allow SCDC to provide better care and greater access to higher acuity level patients, according to a statement by the SCDC. The department has jurisdiction over more than 20,600 offenders throughout the state, with many facilities located in remote areas. While specialists or other providers may not be available to the prison system for significant periods of time, the telehealth partnership will increase access to quality care regardless of the number of available providers in various institutions.
Additionally, telehealth services allow physicians to examine potentially dangerous inmates without the cost and security risk associated with transporting them to hospitals. The ability to provide these services has vastly improved due to technology developments in recent years, including the implementation of electronic medical records.
“Telehealth is poised to improve the health of all South Carolinians, and this connection is a significant advance furthering that mission,” said James McElligot, M.D., MUSC telehealth medical director, in a statement. “The technologies, when wisely applied, can transcend the significant challenges in providing care to this population and have tremendous potential for cost savings to our state. This effort is yet another example of how our state legislature’s vision and support has enabled telehealth services to be developed and deployed efficiently.”
The partnership is part of an emerging national trend to provide better care to underserved populations. In a statement, the SCDC pointed to a 2014 report from The PEW Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation showing per-inmate spending on prison health care grew by a median of 10 percent from 2007-2011. The SCDC statement also noted that South Carolina spent $2,933 per inmate in 2011.